Efficacy of Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain

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Kaiser Permanente

Status and phase

Phase 3


Low Back Pain


Procedure: Accupuncture

Study type


Funder types



U01AT001110 (U.S. NIH Grant/Contract)

Details and patient eligibility


This is a trial to clarify the extent to which acupuncture needling can diminish the effect of chronic back pain on patient functioning and symptoms.

Full description

This is a 4-arm multi-site randomized controlled trial to clarify the extent to which various types of acupuncture needling can diminish the effect of chronic low back pain on patient functioning and symptoms. Reviews have noted the poor quality of research in this area and urged that scientifically rigorous studies be conducted. Recent higher quality trials suggest acupuncture is a promising treatment for back pain. This study directly addresses methodological shortcomings that have plagued previous studies. A total of 640 subjects (160 per arm) with low back pain lasting at least 3 months will be recruited from group model HMOs in Seattle, WA and Oakland, CA. They will be randomized to one of three different methods of stimulation of acupuncture or to continue usual medical care. Ten treatments will be provided over 7 weeks. The primary outcomes, dysfunction and bothersomeness of low back pain, will be measured at baseline, and after 8, 26, and 52 weeks by telephone interviewers masked to treatment. Analysis of covariance within an intention-to-treat context will be used to analyze the data. Because chronic back pain is a major public health problem and the top reason patients seek acupuncture treatment, a clear, unambiguous assessment is critical for making informed decisions about whether acupuncture should be included as part of conventional care for back pain or covered by insurance. Results of this study will provide the clearest evidence to date about the value of acupuncture needling as a treatment for chronic low back pain.




18 to 70 years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • Diagnosis of low back pain including lumbago, unspecified backache, sprains and strains of sacroiliac, lumbar, sacral, or unspecified regions of the spine
  • Back pain must be of at least 3 months duration and rated at least 3 on a symptom bothersomeness scale

Exclusion criteria

  • non-mechanical causes or potential causes of low back pain (i.e. sciatica, underlying systemic or visceral disease, pregnancy, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, cancer or unexplained weight loss, recent vertebral fracture)
  • previous treatment with acupuncture
  • inappropriate candidate for acupuncture (i.e. severe clotting disorders or on anticoagulant medication, heart pacemakers)
  • characteristics complicating the interpretation of the findings (severe or progressive neurologic deficits, back surgery within the prior three years, planning to seek other treatment for back pain)
  • characteristics related to ability to complete the study protocol (unable to speak English, plans to move out of town)

Trial design

Primary purpose




Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


Triple Blind

640 participants in 4 patient groups, including a placebo group

Usual care
No Intervention group
non needle control
Placebo Comparator group
Procedure: Accupuncture
Acupuncture - Standardized Points
Sham Comparator group
Procedure: Accupuncture
Accupunture - Experimental Points
Experimental group
Procedure: Accupuncture

Trial contacts and locations



Data sourced from clinicaltrials.gov

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